Developer: Eva Kiss
Interviewed by: Sihil
Today we’re chatting with Eva Kiss to know how she manages it all AND manages to dish the updates out so quickly.
Eva Kiss is an adult game developer famous for the game called Our Red String a visual novel that somehow manages to do everything right. It baffles me, really. Wouldn’t have thought it possible, every game does at least either the gameplay, the story, or the characters poorly but not this one. Oh, and that’s not even counting the replay value it has.
Like 4MinuteWarning the developer of Ravager (you can check the interview here), Eva Kiss was also inspired by the Dragon Age series. Other inspirations were Mass Effect and Katie’s corruption by 3diddly. She “wanted to recreate that feeling of agency, giving the player choices that matter and that shape not only your character but the world around you, making you feel really immersed in the game, that you're actually playing your own, personal story.”
Early concepts for Our Red String:
She clearly succeeded in doing that even in the first game of hers, named Good girl gone bad but she takes things a step further in this game. Because, in her words: “an artist’s goal is to improve and make better games, not worse”.
The one thing that takes this game apart from its contemporaries is that even though you’d expect a game like this to have a blank-slate protagonist, both of the main characters have strong, unique personalities and don’t get pushed into a stereotype, this is true for all characters which makes them feel like real people and not cardboard cutouts. In her own words, "ORS my philosophy was about making a more focused approach. GGGB was fun because the possibilities were really wide, but that meant they felt a bit shallow. With ORS I wanted to go deeper and develop it's themes and possibilities in a more narrow but richer way. The themes of the game are personal and emotional connections between characters, so it was natural to make Ian and Lena have a more defined and complex personality. They are not so much blank slates that you can mold as you want, but defined characters you can guide and change through choices that affect how they relate to the world and characters around them, exploring who they are and discovering who can they become."
PEOPLE REACT TO WHAT YOU CREATE, AND THE ARTIST'S IDENTITY SHOULD ONLY BE PORTRAYED IN HIS ART
Now with all this said, it’d be so easy, I mean so easy to create a great game out of all of this alone. But the game also has interesting RPG mechanics that has four basic skills: physical strength, charisma, intelligence, and the one skill that everyone would max out; lust. Specializing in a particular build unlocks specific scenes that add a lot of replay value. On top of that, the game has a will-power stat that while not necessarily tied to morality like you might think if you’ve played GGGB is essentially a checkpoint for important plot points. Explaining the will stats, Eva Kiss tells us, "Will points are not necessarily tied to morality. You earn them by taking the characters to places that align with their needs or desires, like helping them make progress on their dreams or navigating their personal relationships in a certain manner."
The game is, while probably won’t be as dark as GGGB was in places, will have its share of fucked-upness. This is great as what we will have will be more grounded and realistic, and by extension hotter. "ORS feels, in general, more grounded than GGGB, and this time my goal is not so much to push branching to the extreme, but to go deeper into those interactive branching mechanics. So, dark paths, yeah, for sure. Not as outlandish, but with the deeper emotional connection the player has to ORS cast, maybe they will feel even more potent and engaging"
Now, most H-games avoid things like themes and other higher-level creative concepts like the plague they are. For instance, in dreams of desire, you don't really acknowledge that you're mind-controlling the step-landlady and the step-roommates. But ORS defies your expectation here as well, here's what Eva had to say about quoting Nietszche during the date with Seymour when you're playing as Lena: "I found Nietzsche's three metamorphoses to be very adequate to show who Seymour is and how he thinks: he's cultured, he's intelligent, and he has this very power-centric interpretation on Nietzsche's philosophy. I like the stories I write to have some deeper themes to them when possible and this seemed like a good way to show some complexity on character's personality and moral stances that I hope people will find interesting." Not many games go this deep with the character that's not even a MC.
Evolution of art:
So yeah, the game is clearly a product of great passion and skill, and the excitement of Eva Kiss explaining everything was contagious. But the time was finite. So we had to move on to another topic: the dev herself.
She started out as an aspiring artist who got drawn to the world of adult games by Katie’s corruption. She was struggling at the time but her hard work paid off with GGGB and what she learned from that game to ORS to create a better one. It genuinely makes me happy to see when a good artist gets better with time.
Honestly, if you ask me, the way the game is written, the way the scenes are framed, it’s obvious to me that the person creating them is a woman. But apparently, there’s a significant portion of people who believe the game was created by a dude. Eva Kiss herself neither confirms nor denies this. So we can only speculate, explicate and masturbate. I know I am calling her a “she” the whole time but she said “you can use whatever pronouns you want” so yeah *shrugs*.
When asked about the role of her gender when creating the game, her response was so good that I HAVE to quote the whole thing:
“Sex and gender seem to be the most important topic in culture these days, but honestly, to me, it has made no difference at all. People react to what you create, and the artist's identity should only be portrayed in his art. After all, I've always worked behind a pseudonym and Eva Kiss could be seen as just another character that I use to express myself creatively. My goal when I entered the adult VN scene was to provide a new take in a genre that I felt had too many stories that felt written by a horny 15 year old boy, and a more "feminine" perspective could be refreshing and exciting. There has always been speculation about Eva Kiss' gender, and I find it funny: some people say it's clear the way some scenes are written could only have come from a woman's mind, while some other feel like they are obviously the handiwork of a male writer. In the end, a writer has to embody their characters somehow, and we all have a masculine-feminine polarity inside ourselves, maybe that's why I felt compelled to make a dual protagonist game in ORS, where you play both sides. In any case, I haven't felt that being perceived as "female" has affected my standing whatsoever as a dev, and people haven't been really interested in what's between my legs, but in the games and characters, I create. And that's something I feel proud of and what an artist should aim for, I suppose.”
Yeah, see what I told you about not confirming or denying? If you’re curious to read the interview in its entirety you can do so below. A few minutiae of the interactions and emojis will escape you occasionally. That is because I couldn’t find a way to include them in the transcript and NOT because I am socially awkward, okay?
The art process:
We invite you to read the whole Interview below:
Sihil: Awesome. Let's begin! Sihil: So here's the first question: Sihil: What games inspired you to create our Red String? Can you share an early concept art for the game? Eva: To tell the truth, I barely played any adult VNs before starting to create my own. My main influences were mainstream games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, some of Telltale games and Banner Saga, which I really enjoyed. And when I was a kid I always liked those "choose your own adventure" books. Basically, I just wanted to recreate that feeling of agency, giving the player choices that matter and that shape not only your character, but the world around you, making you feel really immersed in the game, that you're actually playing your own, personal story. That has always been the part I most enjoyed from interactive games, and never found an experience that was 100% satisfying, so I wanted to attempt my own take on that. What finally pushed me to get started was discovering another Ren'py VN called Katie's Corruption. It looked rather crude but I saw the amazing potential on it's mechanics. I thought, "if this guy can do it, I should be able to, too!" so I used that game as a bit of a template for my first VN, Good Girl Gone Bad. About early concept art for ORS, you can find it on my Patreon post, but let me see if I can dig out some real quick Sihil: Man, these Dragon Age games must be really good to influence two of my favorite devs Sihil: Speaking of GGGB, generally devs tend to make their MCs as much of a blank slate as possible. Even Ashley's past didn't matter as much to the story but in ORS, both Ian and Lena have interesting personalities and are quite opinionated in their own ways. What made you try this different sort of approach? Eva: I didn't want to repeat GGGB's formula, not in the same exact way. Ashley was a very easy character to customize and you could take her in wildly different directions, and it was really fun to push that aspect of the game. But with ORS my philosophy was about making a more focused approach. GGGB was fun because the possibilities were really wide, but that meant they felt a bit shallow. With ORS I wanted to go deeper and develop it's themes and possibilities in a more narrow but richer way. The themes of the game are personal and emotional connections between characters, so it was natural to make Ian and Lena have a more defined and complex personality. They are not so much blank slates that you can mold as you want, but defined characters you can guide and change through choices that affect how their relate to the world and characters around them, exploring who they are and discovering who can they become
Sihil: One thing I noticed was that while GGGB was by no means a bad game, ORS seems to be a class apart with respect to its writing. Not a question but I really gotta compliment you on how your writing has improved Eva: Thanks! As an artist my goal is to improve and make better games, not worse Sihil: So, this brings me to my next question, I'm sure you've noticed how much the players are getting attached to the characters. You recently conducted a poll that determined who're the players' favorite male and female NPCs, I was a little offended when I saw Allison wasn't no. 1. Who’re your favorite waifu and em... husbando(?) from the game? Eva: This is always a tricky question! I try to create different characters that are interesting in their own way, and some bring to the table stuff that others can't. Besides, depending on your choices the same character can end up becoming two (or more) very different versions of itself. Of course the lead characters are my favourites (that's why I chose them as the leads) but I enjoy writing each member of the supporting cast for different reasons. I have a lot of fun with Seymour's manipulative antics, Axel's intensity or Jeremy's "bro-ness", and I like Ivy's self-assured attitude, Holly's sweetness and everyone's favourite, Cindy, for... reasons haha.
Sihil: Jeremy is a true bro.There aren't many ongoing games that I'm genuinely excited to see the satisfying endings of and ORS is one of them. How close do you think you are to the end? Eva: That's hard to tell, but I know there's still a long way to get there. The plot has finally kicked into high gear in chapters 6 and 7, but there are still tons of plot-lines to develop and even introduce. My early estimate was that ORS would have no less than 20 chapters, but I can't really say. I like to develop my stories as organically as possible and I have a ton of ideas I'd like to add to the game, but I also know development can become really complex and cumbersome on the late stages, and I will need to keep things balanced. Sihil: Well, if the first few chapters are any indication, I'm sure you'll nail it One thing you've implemented really well in this game is the RPG system, the stats are simple yet create a great lot of variation in the gameplay, well aside from the fact that everyone would max out their lust stat. How did you get the idea for it? Eva: It's honestly not a very original idea, haha. I like to craft my branching storylines based on narrative choices rather than on stats, but I feel certain stats are necessary. As a gameplay element, they allow the player to assess how their choices are affecting his standing in-game, and numerical skills are a quick and easy way to relate that information to the player. In any case, GGGB had a very simple, binary Good/Bad karma system, and I wanted to expand on that. Being naughty or nice was way too simplistic and I decided to define the characters by the most elementary characteristics that could be used in the game's interactions, Wits, Charisma, Athletics, and Lust. And I also added Will like a special currency that unlocks certain events. This is something I saw being used in mobile games, but they ask for money to reveal content to you. I despise those practices, so I implemented that same idea but without charging people with infuriating micro-transactions: all you need to do is play the game smart and you'll unlock special Will points. Sihil: Will power stat is certainly a very interesting concept Spice: Yeah makes you more invested in the game I think Sihil: I was actually surprised to find few points of will where I completely didn't expect them. Spice: Did the introduction of skills change the planning aspect? Is it way harder now? Eva: That was the idea, making some more "gamey" mechanics to increase player interactions with the game systems Sihil: It makes me curious, how will the willpower stat work in the future. If the player makes more "moral" choices, would it unlock more scenes, or will power wouldn't depend on morality in itself? Eva: (replying to spice) It can be hard to balance how many points are earned and in which situations, especially when you don't have a completed game but are working chapter by chapter. And sometimes I have to think about ways of using those skills, or they become irrelevant. But it's not so different from the Good/Bad point system. I try to use it when it feels adequate, but in the end, plot driven choices are always more important than stat requirements Replying to Sihil: Will points are not necessarily tied to morality. You earn them by taking the characters to places that align with their needs or desires, like helping them make progress on their dreams or navigating their personal relationships in a certain manner. Sihil: A bit of a tangent here but it was a pleasant surprise to see thus spoke Zarathustra getting referenced in a H-game. It does make sense within context of Seymour's characterization that he'd perceive himself as the Ubermensch. Besides, as everyone knows, there's nothing sexier than dead philosophers, so can we expect more Nietzsche references in the future? Eva: Hahaha it's possible, it's possible. I found Nietzsche's three metamorphoses to be very adequate to show who Seymour is and how he thinks: he's cultured, he's intelligent, and he has this very power-centric interpretation on Nietzsche's philosophy. I like the stories I write to have some deeper themes to them when possible and this seemed like a good way to show some complexity on character's personality and moral stances that I hope people will find interesting Sihil: Fascinating stuff. I wanted to make the MC of my game a Kantian but then I wouldn't have been able to justify him not being a virgin. Anyway, we've already talked about how ORS improves upon GGGB in terms of writing What other ways do you think ORS improves upon GGGB? Of course, the comparison is a little bit "apples and oranges" kind of scenario but still. Eva: Well, aside from the mentioned deeper and richer writer and choice mechanics, and the obvious leap in production values and graphic quality... I'd say ORS is an improvement in every aspect! The only thing in which GGGB is "superior" is in character customization and wide variation of story branches (you can be a goody-two shoes or a drug-dealing gangster and everything in between), but that's because the nature of the game is different. I feel ORS is more engaging and complex, and a lot more thought and effort is being put into character writing and so on. But people have different tastes and may enjoy my older game more than the new one.
Spice: So the art aspect. Can you describe the process. Is everything hand-drawn? Do you do everything yourself? I mean the art is stunning. Sihil: Tying into this distinction between the games is how GGGB got pretty dark, at times. Being the sick bastard that I am, I am not complaining. Should we expect ORS to be get just as dark in places or will it in general be lighter in tone? I can see that there are some seeds for some storylines that can get pretty dark. Am I reading too much here? Eva: With GGGB I wanted to push the interactive branching possibilities to the extreme, so to contrast some of the "good" paths other ones became pretty wild and outlandish (and some were plain silly, haha). ORS will no doubt explore some dark plot-lines too, but they will be a bit different in nature. ORS feels in general more grounded than GGGB, and this time my goal is not so much to push branching to the extreme, but to go deeper into those interactive branching mechanics. So, dark paths, yeah, for sure. Not as outlandish, but with the deeper emotional connection the player has to ORS cast, maybe the